I recently hit a circumstantial rough patch in my life. Nothing inside of me was going wrong, but everything on the outside started piling up. Been there? You know what it is like - car breaks down, then the garage door breaks, something else is wrong with the car, someone gets really sick, stress at work, and to top it off you have some relational difficulty with a friend. Any one of those things isn’t a big deal, maybe two or three aren’t, but all of them in a short amount of time is enough pressure to lose any trace of joy!
The week this series of events began, I drove to Alabama to visit my Dad who was sick. I heard a song on the radio called “Joy” by King and Country. The main message of the song was “choose joy”. Unfortunately, it didn’t tell me how. I wrestled with how hard it is to choose joy when in a storm. Is it really a choice, I thought? If so, how in the world am I supposed to do that? I realized that, in a storm, my ability to see hope or joy was really limited. I realized that devoid of hope and joy, I was also not at peace, my soul had become busy. It took a few days as I sorted out all the things that were going on and the potential loss of my dad.
The one thing I know I can say is if we are to choose joy it has to come from something other than a feeling, a song, or a simple encouragement from someone. In the dark night, choosing joy is an emotionless task of choosing. A choice based on faith and relationship with God. The best thing we can do to choose joy is to cultivate a relationship with the joy giver, God.
There are several people in the bible we can look to for that. People like Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebekah, who served his uncle Laban for seven years to receive the hand of Rachel in marriage in Genesis 29. The bible says, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her”. Unfortunately, Laban tricked Jacob and gave him Leah on his wedding night instead of Rachel. Jacob would have to work another seven years for Rachel! Jacob chose to serve the additional seven years and God honored his choice by increasing his family and giving him great wealth!
Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, was the favorite son, the apple of his father's eye. Out of jealousy, his brothers plotted to kill him and ultimately sold him into slavery, where he lost 13 years of his life in prison. Yet in Genesis 39:2 it says, “The Lord was with Joseph so he became a successful man… the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer… and whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper”. Joseph had every reason to despair and be angry with his brothers. Joseph knew through his faith in God that even though everything was piling up the other way, that God had a plan for his life. After Pharaoh made him the second in command in all the land, he had the power to exact revenge on his brothers. Yet we see his words in Genesis 50:19-20, “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20). That’s choosing joy!
Choosing joy is not a Jedi mind trick that mature Christians finally figure out one day. It is a mark of mature Christians. It is not a complex algorithm, it is a result of our relationship with and faith in God. He is the source of joy! The bible is full of people in bad circumstance who saw God in the storm, and chose to leave the depths of their sadness and meet God in the promise of hope and joy and love. People like Ruth, who easily could have played the poor helpless widow, and yet laid at Boaz’s feet in redemption. People like Paul, who, once coming to faith, had to deal with the guilt and shame of his old life of persecuting Christians. Yet Paul said in Philippians, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord… forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
Choosing joy means that we look to our infinitely good God, who is able to make all things turn out for our good and His glory. Choosing joy may not be easy but, remember, you are not the source of joy, Jesus is. You are only turning to the good news that all of the worst-case scenarios that you fear, have already happened at the cross, and all the best-case scenarios you long for, are yours in Christ Jesus, because He was raised again and now sits at the right hand of the Father as our advocate. His Spirit has been sent into our hearts so that even when the night is darkest, even when the road is roughest, we can choose joy!